The nuclear reactor of the future in China

This time it will be just a test. But it is significant and of enormous importance. Near Wuwéi (China) a nuclear reactor will be put into operation. It is barely three meters high and has the capacity to generate two megawatts. Enough to power about 1,000 homes. But this test will serve to refine the nuclear reactor of the future in China.

China's nuclear reactor of the future is getting closer to reality.
China’s nuclear reactor of the future nears reality.
New uses

“Will this Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) be the next generation technology?” says Charles Forsberg. He is a nuclear engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S. “This is the first step in rethinking the path of nuclear power.”

Nuclear power generates more electricity than others. It emits almost no carbon dioxide and guarantees a continuous supply. Its waste is much more controllable than that of other sources. Most nuclear power plants use uranium as fuel. But what is being tested in China is new.

They use molten fluoride salt in combination with thorium. This chemical element exists four times more than uranium. In a reactor, the two elements combine to produce a physical reaction (fission). It generates more heat than that emanating from uranium-235/238 combined with plutonium. That is the traditional method.

This type of process does not require water, as in the other nuclear plants. They can be built in remote places.

“There is an urgent need to commercialize advanced reactor technologies,” says nuclear engineer Everett Redmond. He works at the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute.

Thorium, a chemical element more abundant than uranium, is key to the process.
Thorium, a chemical element more abundant than uranium, is key to the process.
Nuclear future

China’s nuclear reactor of the future will be tested in the Gobi desert in Gansu province. Some US$500 million is invested in a program started in 2011. It is the first reactor to attempt a commercial use: supplying electricity.

Not only do they require nuclear fission to work well. The process to get the heat and transport it to a thermodynamic plant must be stable.

The power from the experimental reactor will have a minimum capacity of 2 megawatts to power a thousand homes. The plan for 2030 is ambitious. A reactor generating around 370 megawatts. It would power more than 185,000 homes.

“Higher temperature heat results in more efficient power cycles. A higher fraction of heat is converted into more electricity,” explains the MIT scientist.

China would have the most advanced, safe, and cleanest power generation technology in the world.

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